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Federal Design Library 

A series presenting 
information and ideas 


Their meaning and use 
for federal designers 


National Endowment for the Arts 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 

Federal Design Library 

A series presenting 
information and ideas 
related to federal design 

Design Standards Manuals 

Their meaning and use 
for federal designers 

Based on a presentation to 
the Second Studio Seminar for 
Federal Graphic Designers 
November 9, 1976 

Bruce Blackburn 

National Endowment for the Arts 

About Graphics Standards Manuals 

Graphics standards manuals are 
emerging as prime working tools in 
government communication. About 
twenty departments and agencies 
either have manuals or are preparing 
them as an aid to producing quality, 
standardized communications — 
efficiently and economically. 

A manual— the end product of a uni- 
fied visual communication system — 
can insure against fragmentation, du- 
plication, waste, and ineffectiveness 
— all targets of the Federal Design Im- 
provement Program. That program, 
coordinated by the National Endow- 
ment for the Arts, is an on-going effort to 
upgrade government design — in archi- 
tecture, interiors, and visual communi- 
cation, including publications and other 

Good design saves time and money 
and enhances communication and 
understanding. And that is what a 
graphics standards manual helps to do. 
It is based on considerable research, 
analysis, surveying, interviewing, and 
validating — to tailor a visual communi- 
cation system to an agency's unique 
needs. It is also a "living" document that 
should be subject to change as condi- 
tions warrant. 

Comptroller of the Currency 

O ffMOSfofr 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric 


Internal Revenue Service 

Internal Revenue Service 

Official Symbol of 



The American 

for Authorized 

Graphics Standards 

Revolution Bicentennial 




f m 






American Revolution Bicentennial 

U.S. Department of Labor 

Champlain, New York 
Port of Entry 

Champlain, New York 

San Diego, California 
Port of Entry 

San Diego, California 

General Services Administration 
(U.S. Border Stations) 

National Aeronautics and 
Space Administration 

U.S. Information Agency 

U.S. Postal Service 

color and graphics 

post office interior spaces 

About the Author 

Since 1973, Bruce Blackburn has been 
a partner in the New York design firm of 
Danne & Blackburn, Inc. Before that he 
was a designer, an associate, and then 
a partner in Chermayeff & Geismar As- 
sociates. While at CGA, he designed 
the official U.S. Bicentennial symbol, for 
which he received the President's 
Award for Excellence from the Univer- 
sity of Cincinnati, his alma mater. 

He is an active member of the Ameri- 
can Institute of Graphic Arts and was 
recently elected to the Arts Advisory 
Council in Port Washington, New York, 
his Long Island home town. 

Blackburn has consistently won 
major design awards including those 
presented by American Institute of 
Graphic Arts, New York and Chicago 
Art Directors Clubs, Graphis/ Inter- 
national, Communication Arts, Typo- 
mundus, and Society of Typographic 
Arts. Articles about his work have ap- 
peared in Print, Idea, Industrial Design, 
and Communication Arts. 

In 1975 his firm, Danne & Blackburn, 
was selected as consultant to the Na- 
tional Aeronautics and Space Adminis- 
tration for the development of a Unified 
Visual Communications System. The 
firm is still actively involved with NASA 
and, in addition, continues to serve a 
growing number of major U.S. corpo- 
rations, institutions, and government 

Blackburn believes that design is a 
logical problem-solving process, not 
just the arbitrary application of style. 
Because of this, he feels that there will 
continue to be an increasing need for 
the work of designers in industry and 
government as institutions of every sort 
attempt to solve more difficult and com- 
plex communications problems. 




Their Meaning 

and Use for 



The purpose of this proceeding is to 
explain what a design manual is, why 
we need it, why it is good, why it is bad, 
how it can be used, and how it can be 
misused. That can be easy and difficult. 
I have participated in the development 
of a number of manuals; I have partici- 
pated in the implementation of the in- 
formation in a number of manuals. I 
know it is easier to develop one than it is 
to implement one, and I think that is 
really the crux of the problem of how to 
accept it, how to work with it, what it 
means to a practicing designer in any 
organization, not necessarily the gov- 

Here is a little design fable to illustrate 
why a manual is necessary. 

Imagine being the owner of a fine, big 
old house in the hillside in Connecticut, 1 
let's say, that needs paint. A thing 
should be done the right way, so the 
best painters in the area should do the 
job. There are four really terrific 
painters. It's hard to make a decision, 
so all four painters get the job. They are 
commissioned to paint the house and to 
do the best of all possible jobs. Money is 
no object. 

So they go to work. The four painters 
get together and decide that each of 
them will paint one side of the house. 
Now the first one is a hard-edged 
painter, and he does a beautiful job with 
the first elevation of the house. 2 

The second painter likes polka dots. 3 
Probably his underwear looks like that, 

The third one's mother was scared by 
a sailor or something — who knows? 4 

The fourth painter is a symbolist- 

So there are four very good solutions 
to a design problem but no cohesion. 
There are four excellent people going 
off on their own creative paths in four 
unrelated directions. The logical solu- 

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tion to that problem, I suppose, would 
have been to decide before painting the 
house whether it should be polka- 
dotted, cream-colored, or what have 
you. A plan of some kind would thus be 
formulated instead of letting each 
painter go off in a separate direction. 

Now this is a really awkward kind of 
parable, but I think it explains why we 
need a policy and a design manual. 

Government organizations are rather 
large and complex. Each of us should 
take a look at organizations in general 
to see how they operate on levels other 
than the one in which we are participat- 
ing. Every organization has a top man- 
agement, whose responsibility is to set 
goals for the organization and to formu- 
late policy based on those goals. 

Then management creates the 
tools — the guidelines that set forth the 
policy — to implement that policy in 
terms that can be used by the people in 
the trenches, the people who really do 
the work for the organization. This is 
why there is a proliferation of manage- 
ment and operational guideline 
materials — particularly, I guess, in gov- 
ernment. If all of one agency's guide- 
lines were stacked in a pile, I think we 
would be amazed at how high it was. 

Guidelines are absolutely necessary 
to make a complex mechanism function 
in a cohesive way, so that someone in 
Division A and someone in Division B 
respond to a similar problem in a similar 

The design manual reflects a policy 
that the top management has formu- 
lated with respect to communications 
— to communicating (a) the identifica- 
tion of the organization, and (b) the feel- 
ing, the style, the attitudes, the goals, all 
of the abstract things that designers try 
to incorporate into visual communica- 
tions. The manual is a tool intended to 
help the communications people 

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achieve a more effective and cohesive 
result for the organization. At its best, a 
design manual is only a commonly ac- 
cepted matrix or structure within which 
any designer can develop a solution to 
a specific problem that is the most effec- 
tive communication. 

The key is that the solutions to these 
problems must be based on content. A 
designer's main problem is in relating to 
content. A design manual removes the 
need for a designer to make certain 
decisions that might have been neces- 
sary before the establishment of a pol- 
icy on identification. 

Before we begin a project, we review 
all the materials that were being used 
when we began developing the identifi- 
cation program. We could take our 
choice of sixty or seventy different ways 
of rendering the organization's name. 
We could use an acronym, we could 
spell out the whole name, we could use 
symbols combined with the name, we 
could use any one of sixty different 

In a sense the manual limits the ways 
in which a thing can be done. At its best 
it also indicates a level of design and an 
attitude of design. These elements of 
the manual are also important since the 
organization is large and communica- 
tion materials emanate from all parts of 
it, perhaps from a hundred desks 
throughout the organization. The agen- 
cy's top executive will want all of those 
communications to look as if they came 
from the same place, because that is 
the whole point of the agency's attempt 
to project a unified image. 

I made a list of the ways in which the 
design manual is effective as an aid to 
design. First of all a manual promotes 
continuity throughout the entire organi- 
zation. It creates a stronger communi- 
cation result. As a corollary to that, it 
also effects greater retention by the au- 

diences. The more times a mass audi- 
ence is hit with a similar identification 
thrust or design attitude, the more the 
people begin to recognize the design as 
a kind of a shorthand, without even hav- 
ing to read the material. They will rec- 
ognize an IBM piece, or a Westinghouse 
piece, or what have you, and that is 
definitely a goal of any design program. 
A design manual can indicate a direc- 
tion, but it cannot fill in all the blanks. 

A second important function of a de- 
sign manual is to centralize and coordi- 
nate effort, so that designers in the field 
can talk to someone who has a picture 
of the large program. There are prob- 
lems associated with the practice of 
having one person responsible for an 
overview of everything going on within a 
large organization. But that kind of ar- 
rangement tends to bring everyone to- 
gether, to promote an understanding 
among people who have different kinds 
of problems. It tends to make everyone 
more willing and somehow more able to 
arrive at a consensus with respect to 
the general direction of the communi- 

The coordinator does not design 
specific pieces for the people in the 
field. His function is to advise them on 
how the things they do fit into the larger 
picture. That is also a good deal of the 
responsibility of a designer. It is part of 
the problem, part of the plan, to make 
every design part of a larger effort. 

The days when the designer could do 
great things locked in a vacuum are 
over. The responsibilities are much 
greater now, though the problem is 
more difficult for creative people. They 
must effectively sublimate their own 
desire to be creative in a total sense. 
They must solve the problem within the 
context of a greater goal than their own. 
That is, indeed, a challenge. I think every 
one of us has to face that every day. 

The design manual promotes a sin- 
gle look in the identification of an organ- 
ization. It gives designers in every part 
of the organization a reference or com- 
mon ground to communicate with each 
other about their common problems. 

The manual can be misused in many 
ways. For example, it should not be 
thought of as a replacement for a de- 
signer's creative input. A design 
manual cannot legislate with regard to 
specific everyday problems. People 
who put manuals together, I think, often 
forget that. 

Many manuals are very specific with 
regard to the look of the design that is 
acceptable within the program. They go 
so far, in fact, in suggesting ways to 
approach problems that they become 
intimidating. The people who use them 
become imitators of the suggestions in 
the manual. I believe that is a big mis- 

A manual can suggest a direction, 
but it really cannot solve problems, and 
it cannot impose a stylistic approach to 
everything. It should give a feeling for 
the way the entire program is going, the 
look of things coming out of it. The 
manual may be considered as a refer- 
ence, but as a very, very general ref- 
erence in terms of expression in com- 
munications problems. I think of it as a 
broad definition. There are millions of 
solutions to every problem, and one de- 
signer cannot put them all in a manual. 

The manual is very specific, on the 
other hand, when it comes to ironclad 
policy, such as the identification of the 
organization. No liberties can be taken 
with that sort of thing if there is to be any 
kind of cohesion in the program. That is 
the one point on which the manual is 

But the manual should not be taken 
literally when it comes to gridding, when 
it comes to cover treatments, when it 


comes to just about any ongoing, recur- 
ring sort of problem. It should be used 
as a guide but not imitated. Once the 
designer begins to imitate the manual, 
perspective disappears. Solutions are 
superimposed on problems rather than 
being allowed to grow out of the prob- 
lems. The solutions are always there, 
and the designer must search for them. 
Do not be intimidated. Do not think of 
the manual as saying that there must be 
a solid red background with a dropout, 
flush left Helvetica type, and so forth 
and so on. That would make mashed 
potatoes out of the designers' brains be- 
fore they even got into the problem. 

A manual can also be misused by 
using it to fight city hall. I have experi- 
enced this both in the commercial world 
and in government projects. 

Many times when these programs 
are initiated from above, they are 
thrown into everyone's lap, and every- 
one is told to comply or die. That does 
not go down very well . So a lot of people 
react by becoming jailhouse lawyers in 
the sense that they will go through the 
manual with a fine-tooth comb to find an 
inconsistency. God knows there are 
inconsistencies, because the people 
who put the manuals together are 
human. The jailhouse lawyers use 
these inconsistencies to fight the sys- 
tem. They do something that will use an 
inconsistency to make their point: The 
manual is not perfect; therefore how 
can the guidelines possibly be fol- 

I think it must be recognized that 
these manuals are here to stay. In the 
main they are beneficial. The guidelines 
really are not a constraint. They are 
intended as an aid, and when they are 
properly used, they can be an aid. 

If there is an inconsistency in the 
manual, it should be pointed out to the 
coordinator. Be a friend. Tell him the 


inconsistency will be badly received 
down the line. Tell him it ought to be 
changed now, before somebody makes 
a big issue of it. We ought to get the 
thing on the track. 

Many people refer to design manuals 
as bibles. The Bible was written pretty 
well, I guess, even though it has its 
inconsistencies, too. But a manual, a 
communications program, must be in a 
state of constant development and 
metamorphosis. It goes through 
changes as a result of the people who 
are involved in it, who contribute their 
own thoughts, constructive thoughts, 
as to how it works and does not work. 
Somehow a consensus is reached on 
the basis of all this input, and a change 
is made. 

A controversy is going on at the Na- 
tional Aeronautics and Space Admin- 
istration (NASA) right now about a 
typeface that we specified as part of the 
identification system. It is difficult to re- 
produce within the government printing 
system. The typeface was Helvetica 
light, which is a beautiful typeface. It 
works very well in the context of NASA's 
identification system. It seems, how- 
ever, that when it goes through the gov- 
ernment printing system, it often loses a 
lot. So people have told us we should 
consider using the next weight up in the 
Helvetica family, instead of the light, so 
we can eliminate some of these repro- 
duction problems that we're going to be 
running into from now until doomsday. 

That is a good point and a construc- 
tive thing to say. We have all been think- 
ing about it, and we might have to do 
something drastic about it; we aren't 
sure yet. I'm not out in the field doing the 
stuff, and because I am a consultant it's 
not my baby they are killing, it's yours. 
Somehow the people who are design- 
ing these things day to day are very 
disappointed when the finished results 


come back. They are the ones who 
must speak up and tell us it's not work- 
ing. We have to figure out how to make 
it work. 

So if at all possible, try to relate to the 
program in a positive way instead of a 
negative way. 

The third point about misusing a 
manual, or really I guess it would be 
more accurate to say misusing a pro- 
gram, is improper administration from 
organization headquarters. I have been 
through just enough of these things to 
have a lot of scars, and I think it is a 
mistake to have the program without 
giving the responsibility for the program 
to someone fairly high up in the organi- 
zation. It is a mistake because the ship 
is rudderless and there is a minimum of 
communication among the people who 
are really implementing the system 
within the organization. In a sense they 
are like those house painters. The line 
must be drawn somewhere. Someone 
must be given responsibility and the 
final authority in the interpretation of 
what is in this manual. Otherwise there 
will be as many interpretations as there 
are people doing the work. So that is 
something I know rests with top man- 
agement. Sometimes it is done halfway 
or not done at all. I just happen to feel 
very strongly that coordination and 
overview are among the more impor- 
tant elements in any of these programs. 



^e-191 6 

It might be interesting to you to know 
how the Bicentennial symbol came 
about. The Bicentennial Administration 
met and discovered it had no flag nor 
banner to live under. That made the 
administrators very uncomfortable, so 
they decided to hire some designers to 
give them suggestions about what their 
emblem should be. 

They went through an interviewing 
process and accepted proposals from 
four firms outside the government, but 
they couldn't decide who would best 
solve their problems. So they decided 
to hold a competition among the same 
four firms and recruited a jury of people 
from the business world and from gov- 
ernment. They provided a small hon- 
orarium to the four firms and told them 
to submit their proposals to the jury. 
There were probably thirty or maybe a 
few more entries in this competition 
from the four firms. The jury chose the 
"fat star," as I call it, which was one of 
my entries. As a result, Chermayeff & 
Geismar, with whom I was associated 
at that time, was the contractor for de- 
veloping guidelines for the use of the 
symbol and for designing a lot of the 
administrative materials for the Ameri- 
can Revolution Bicentennial Adminis- 
tration (ARBA) and some other related 
project work as well. 

Since I had designed the symbol, it 
fell to me to put together the guideline 
material for the symbol, to write and 
develop the manual, 1 and to work with 
ARBA and its design director Jack 
Masey to ensure that the whole thing 
came together, which was an interest- 
ing process. 

The Bicentennial symbol is the kind 
of thing that happens only once in a 
lifetime. It is very different from a corpo- 
rate trademark or even an agency iden- 
tification, in the sense that the designer 
has so little control over what happens 


to it. Most of the control was in the form 
of legislation that ARBA put through the 
Congress to prevent the symbol from 
being exploited commercially. They 
were very, very rigid about that. 

The Bicentennial manual had to be 
the broadest and most general kind of 
thing, in order to cover the eventualities 
that are inherent in a celebration like the 

Each of the fifty states, for instance, 
would probably have its own Bicenten- 
nial symbol; how could the one be used 
with the others? Treatment of en- 
dorsements and commercial uses, and 
so forth and so on, was really part of the 
initial design problem as well. The sym- 
bol had to be freestanding, and it had to 
stand up well against its competition, its 
visual competition. 

It was an interesting thing to go 

The Bicentennial manual is in a 
saddle-stitched booklet format. We set 
out to use a binder format, but suddenly 
realized that it was very impractical to 
do that. The number of people to have 
access to this information was pretty 
astounding, and the cost of binders for 
all these people would have been as- 
tronomical. So in the interest of econ- 
omy, we consolidated everything into a 
booklet format. 

An interesting note, by the way, about 
the symbol. It was not really designed 
with the typography running around the 
star: That was not the intent. The typog- 
raphy was an element that was under 
the star and provided a kind of a base 
on which the star was sitting. We dis- 
covered we had a tremendous number 
of designers in ARBA who held a 
committee vote, and somehow the type 
appeared around the symbol from then 

The symbol uses a five-pointed 
American star, one of the very few vis- 


ual elements we could pull out of revolu- 
tionary times that held up as a contem- 
porary form. The star is more or less 
wrapped in bunting, in red, white, and 
blue stripes. This has the effect of in- 
corporating the American colors and 
flag and also, just as important, softens 
the impact of the five-pointed star. It 
was one of my beliefs when I was work- 
ing on this project that whatever was 
done should not be a hard-edged, ag- 
gressive, militaristic symbol. We had, as 
a country, come through that kind of 
period, and it was my belief that we 
ought to be looking to a more peaceful 
future. This belief affected what I did 
with the design of the symbol. 

The symbol was designed to be used 
in three different ways: the three- 
colored version; a black and gray ver- 
sion (for one-color printing), which 
somehow simulates the color in the 
middle; and a solid black and white ver- 
sion (also for one-color printing) — either 
against white or in reverse. 1 

Use of the Bicentennial symbol re- 
quired special authorization by ARBA. 
If, for instance, ARBA received a pro- 
posal for an Indian dance in Main 
Street, Fargo, North Dakota, and de- 
cided that it would give that event its 
blessing, it would issue a certificate of 
recognition. At that point, all the litera- 
ture promoting the event could use the 
Bicentennial symbol along with a typo- 
graphic device at the bottom, stating 
that the event was recognized by the 
American Revolution Bicentennial Ad- 
ministration. 2 

The manual also discussed the type 
styles recommended for use with the 
symbol 3 and illustrated a wide range of 
things that could not be done with the 

It included recommendations on the 
use of color on different colored back- 
grounds, 4 to eliminate the use of the 


colored symbol on a blue background 
or some such thing. 

We illustrated in the manual the con- 
struction of the symbol, which is very 
complicated. 1 That was shown to facili- 
tate reproducing the symbol in very 
large sizes. In Phoenix, for instance, 
there is a version of the symbol that is 
325 feet in diameter on top of the fair- 
ground field house. There have been 
other similar things. Somebody ren- 
dered it in flowers in Florida, so pre- 
sumably some people have used the 
manual to scale up the symbol. 

The manual contains a section de- 
voted to reproduction artwork. 2 We 
ended up showing the symbol with a 
kind of feathered connection between 
the red part of the symbol and the blue 
part of the symbol for two-color repro- 
duction, and we provided solid artwork 
for reproduction in one color. I can't 
count the number of times I have seen 
the artwork for the two-color version 
with the little feathered connectors re- 
produced in one color just as they are in 
the manual, with no regard to the in- 
structions that were printed right beside 
the illustration. Somehow that was a 
failure in communication. I don't know 
how we might have overcome it, 
frankly, because people just don't seem 
to want to read this sort of thing. 

The Bicentennial Administration 
used the symbol on some materials 
such as stationery items, a newsletter, 
and informational materials they mailed 
to people who inquired about the Bicen- 
tennial programs and the symbol. 3 

We did several other things for 
ARBA. One was an official poster that 
showed only the symbol, with no other 
content. The other was a ten-second 
animated television sequence; the 
background music was "Yankee Doo- 
dle Dandy." 4 I don't know whether or not 
this ever reached the air. 


The manual demonstrated the treat- 
ment of specific problems, illustrating a 
solution for report covers (there were 
many reports concerning proposals on 
programs and activities for the Bicen- 
tennial celebration) and for marking a 
vehicle. 5 

We discussed earlier the problems of 
a state or "recognized" activity attempt- 
ing to use its own Bicentennial symbol 
in conjunction with the U.S. Bicenten- 
nial symbol. Mt. Rushmore was one of 
the first things chosen to receive ARBA 
recognition. 6 We suggested that the one 
symbol remain away from the other 
symbol as much as possible. There 
was heated discussion about that sug- 
gestion in some instances, and in some 
cases the two symbols were shoved 
right together. 







Aeronautics and 

Let's move on now to the NASA 
Graphics Standards Manual. 1 Perhaps 
it is in order to give some background of 
our involvement with NASA. NASA was 
one of the first agencies to participate in 
the Federal Graphics Improvement 
Program of the National Endowment for 
the Arts. Danne & Blackburn ended up 
on the list of bidders for the project, and 
we were awarded the contract to design 
the identification program and subse- 
quently to develop the design manual. 

NASA's image was a very difficult 
problem to approach. NASA has had, I 
suppose, more publicity and better pub- 
licity than any other agency in Washing- 
ton, taken over a span often years — I'm 
alluding to Walter Cronkite as the extra 
astronaut. All the news-media cover- 
age that came to NASA as a result of 
the space program gave it an identity all 
its own. So, when we got into the prob- 
lem of what we should do to improve the 
kind of space-age Buck Rogers visual 
image that it had been projecting, we 
came to the conclusion that everybody 
knew it as NASA, the acronym derived 
from the agency name, rather than the 
National Aeronautics and Space Ad- 
ministration or anything else. 

We decided, then, to approach 
NASA's identification as a logotype 
based on the "NASA" acronym, an IBM 
solution if you will. We tried to give the 
logo a contemporary look and one that 
had something to do with precision and 
scientific capability and reliability. We 
ended up with a very, very simplified 
continuous-stroke letter form. Another 
name for the old NASA symbol, by the 
way, was the "meatball," and someone 
remarked that NASA had traded in the 
meatball for some spaghetti. 

I think we had a very good situation in 
dealing with NASA in that we had Dr. 
James C. Fletcher and Dr. George 
Lowe, the agency's two top administra- 


tors, who were enthusiastic about this 
program and, in fact, really wanted to 
participate in it. They wanted to be in it 
all the way. When we finally arrived at 
our recommendations and a consen- 
sus among the two of them and the 
group that was advising them, they 
were quick to respond with their en- 
dorsement of the program, and a very 
positive endorsement at that. Dealing 
with them was not too different from 
dealing with a corporation, a commer- 
cial client. They were very organized in 
the way they approached the problem, 
and once they had made their decision, 
they ran with it against some pretty for- 
midable opposition, as it turned out. I 
think now, after a little more than two 
years, the results are starting to show 
up. In fact the people who are working 
with the program are more and more 
happy with it and with the kinds of things 
they can do within this new framework, 
as opposed to what they had before. 

It might be interesting to run through 
the planning of this manual — what was 
in our minds, what use we thought 
these things would be put to, and so 
forth — to give a feeling for how one de- 
sign firm approaches the problem of 
dealing with the attitudes of many 
people who must implement a program. 

First we tried to organize the manual 
in terms of content. 1 In the first two sec- 
tions we covered the fundamentals. 
The remaining sections were devoted 
to various areas of application. 

The first segment of the manual, deal- 
ing with the NASA logotype, is really the 
law, if you will, in terms of identification. 
We tried to narrow that down and spell it 
out carefully, so that everyone would 
have a good reference point for the use 
of the logotype, the use of the words 
around the logotype, and the use of 
reproduction art. Sections pertaining to 
stationery, forms, publications, and so 


forth are more open to interpretation. 

The section of the manual concern- 
ing publications turns out to be the 
largest in the book, and I think rightly so. 
In most federal agencies, publications 
probably present the greatest number 
of design problems. There should be a 
lot of guidance in that area. 

The manual has not yet confronted 
the problem of signage in any meaning- 
ful way; sections on vehicle identifica- 
tion, aircraft identification, and uniforms 
and patches are under way. 

Page one in the manual was a letter 
from Dr. Fletcher stating his endorse- 
ment of the program. 2 

The first section of the manual gives 
an explanation of the logotype, its de- 
velopment and its form. 3 Then it imme- 
diately examines the problem of distin- 
guishing the identity of the agency as an 
entity from the identity of any one of the 
ten NASA centers. 4 NASA is organized 
as a group of semiautonomous re- 
search centers, flight centers, and 
space centers spread all over the coun- 
try. Each has its own director and its 
own management system, and each 
operates pretty much on its own. In the 
past the NASA name and identification 
have not been used consistently in 
center material. The centers put out a 
lot of very provocative material that the 
agency wants to be associated with and 
should be associated with, so we set 
about to get the agency its just due. 

One of our problems was to make 
sure that the centers were identified in a 
strong way, in a clear way, and in a way 
that did not submerge the NASA iden- 
tification, which as a matter of policy 
had to go along with the center's name. 
We provided for a very clear and strong 
center name and also a very strong 
NASA identification to accompany it. In 
principle that is what happens on all 
center communication material. 


Then we discussed the use of color. 1 
We have a NASA red, which we realize 
cannot be used in all cases. In fact in 
about 90 percent of the cases, it is not 
possible to use it. So we spoke in terms 
of use of the red, when possible, as an 
identifier, and use of black and/or gray 
when possible as a second color and as 
a way of showing the logotype. That 
basically was our color system. 

We also displayed, as in the Bicen- 
tennial manual, some ways the logo- 
type should not be used. 2 We had a lot 
of fun with that. 

We showed a grid drawing of the 
logotype to allow for its reproduction at 
a large scale. 3 Some implementation 
of this is going on now: Some giant 
hangars and outbuildings in some of the 
centers are having the new logotype 
applied to them at a rather large scale. 

The manual includes reproduction art- 
work for the logotype and for the agency 
identification, which broke down into 
two basic ways of presenting the infor- 
mation, with two lines or four lines under 
the logotype. 4 

We tried to give the centers a full 
treatment on this reproduction artwork 
for center identification so that we would 
immediately have the consistency that 
we were striving for. We tried to present 
the artwork in such a way that each 
center could clip from these pages a 
piece of artwork to use in preparing a 
publication or what have you. It would 
include not only the NASA name and 
the center name, but also the center's 
address and phone number. That is a 
standard procedure in identifying the 
centers on their publications and 
promotion material. 5 

The letterhead for the center station- 
ery differs from the letterhead at head- 
quarters in that the NASA logotype is 
pulled over into the right-hand corner of 
the page, rather than appearing at the 













upper left above the full name and ad- 
dress, as it does on the headquarters 
letterhead. We made that distinction to 
differentiate the centers from head- 
quarters and to give as much emphasis 
to the center names as possible. 6 

We also tried to cover as many bases 
as we possibly could on the preparation 
and design of a publication in relation- 
ship to the identification program and, in 
fact, the design standards, if you can 
call them that, that we were trying to 
promote. In this written section we dis- 
cussed just about everything that goes 
into a publication. We faced up to the 
problem that typography may not al- 
ways be available and may not always 
be desirable for a given problem. We 
suggested that it was acceptable, and 
in fact in some cases desirable, to use 
alternatives to the Helvetica family, 7 ex- 
cept in the identification elements. The 
Helvetica series of typefaces is part of 
the identification system and recom- 
mended for use in publications and 
other materials as a text face. 

So we said, for instance, that Futura, 
as a sans serif alternative, would be 
acceptable, as would Times Roman. 
We also tried to give a brief example of 
the way Times Roman looks with Times 
Roman bold as a heading face jux- 
taposed against Helvetica medium as a 
heading face over the Times Roman 
text. We tried to mix them up so that we 
could show the serif letter form in use 
with the sans serif letter form. 

We included Garamond here, be- 
cause it is one of the very classic text 
faces that works in much the same way 
as Times Roman. It is a little lighter, has 
a little more finesse, and is a fantastic 
book face. 

We offered only four pages of sug- 
gestions for publication typefaces, but 
there is an understanding that it does 
not stop there. It would be perfectly ac- 


ceptable, for instance, to use Goudy, or 
Bookman, or some other book face in a 
publication, if it were used in a way that 
was in line with the overall goals of the 

We tried to tell our people that we 
were not trying to tie their hands. We 
know they have limitations that are hard 
to overcome. If they have to go halfway 
across the country to get Helvetica or 
Times Roman, and they have a suitable 
alternative, that's fine. Bob Schulman, 
NASA's graphics coordinator, works 
with them to determine that in fact they 
do have a suitable alternative. He is the 
interpreter; he can make that judgment 
with them. 

The point here is that even though we 
show these things in the manual, we 
are not really trying to say this is the law. 
The law is in the front of the book, in the 
discussion of the logotype and the agen- 
cy name, and how those two things go 
together, how the center names are 
rendered, and so forth. 

But in the back of the book, we really 
aren't talking about inflexible law. We're 
talking about suggestions and a feeling 
for the direction in which we wanted 
people to go with the publications. So 
we took representative examples of 
NASA's many publications. We divided 
them into categories that we thought 
were identifiable, and we dealt with 
each of the categories as a group. In 
each group we tried, first of all, to put 
together a suggestion of how the publi- 
cation covers could be treated. In nearly 
all cases illustrated, we used NASA 
identification on the cover of the book, 
which seems to be what people want to 
do. This is difficult to do because it adds 
an extra element, and it is very hard to 
use. It was our feeling that in this par- 
ticular case we had not a symbol, but a 
logotype, which was really a typo- 
graphic element that could be inte- 


grated into a cover design. 

So, for instance, we show three fol- 
ders that are a part of a seemingly end- 
less series giving general information 
on programs and projects under way at 
NASA. 1 These three folders had already 
been produced using the same graphic 
illustrations but a different typographic 
treatment. Each folder had a com- 
pletely unique titling style, which was 
shown very large on the cover. The 
typography had become more impor- 
tant than the illustration. 

In other words, there was a scale 
problem. So we illustrated the manual 
with three of these folders, using nice 
illustrations already done for us, and we 
showed a systematic approach to titling 
publications of this sort. The illustration 
should be allowed to take over. Then 
there are three things that look very 
good in a row. 

The principle we tried to communi- 
cate is that a series of publications will 
work out better if a systematic approach 
is adopted than if a new start is made for 
every new publication. We were not 
saying that this is the only way to do it. 
All these manual illustrations are really 
schematic diagrams: They express cer- 
tain principles that we believe will en- 
hance the effectiveness of the design 
and identification program at NASA. 

This page of the manual also pre- 
sented three hypothetical problems. 
We invented some titles, used some 
photographs, and arrived at a complete- 
ly typographic solution. These three 
examples coupled with the series repre- 
sent a fairly comprehensive range of co- 
ver treatments for leaflets and folders. 

The manual goes on to illustrate jour- 
nals and technical publications, which 
are an entirely different kind of problem. 2 
When we were developing the logo- 
type, we found that it worked very well 
as what we call a "stem word": We use 


the logotype as an identification ele- 
ment and simultaneously as part of the 
titling or typographic device that leads 
off a publication. NASA Tech Briefs 
does not need another NASA any- 
where on the page. Integrating the 
logotype into the title cleans up the 
cover and makes it more dynamic. 

We also made some suggestions 
(which are being implemented) about 
handling diagrams. Our ideas were 
very simple: for instance, outlining a 
diagram so that the outline reflects the 
grid of the publication — a very simple 
thing, which is not often done in a tech- 
nical publication. Often these diagrams 
float between columns of type, with lots 
of air around all the elements and there- 
fore not much cohesion on the page. 
This very simple addition of a thin line 
outlining the diagram tends to bring 
everything together a little bit and make 
it more solid. Typography is architec- 
ture, and architecture requires structure. 

We have also shown in the manual a 
photographic treatment leading off a 
technical publication. Its treatment is 
similar to that of the diagram. 

Some of the publications we dis- 
cussed here are monthly or bimonthly 
publications. Once the mastheads are 
done and a style is determined, they 
more or less take care of themselves. 
From that point on, the designing re- 
quires a very sensitive handling of the 
content. The designer's role, then, is not 
to redesign the masthead every time 
the publication goes out. First, he does 
not have time to do that, and second, for 
him to do so would destroy the con- 
tinuity. His role is to put the publication 
together in a way that effectively com- 
municates its content. 

We gave some examples of news 
publications because a newsletter or 
news magazine cannot be treated like 
anything else. 1 One example is a head- 


quarters publication, NASA Activities, 
which is NASA's house organ. The 
other is a center newsletter monthly, the 
Langley Researcher. Both designs 
were developed by Danne & Blackburn 
as prototypes for future publications of 
this sort in NASA. 

NASA Activities looks very good, I 
think, after about a year. And the 
Langley Researcher, although it did not 
develop precisely the way we anticip- 
ated, looks pretty good. So I think we 
have begun to build an awareness of 
good design by selecting a few publica- 
tions as typical situations, doing them 
the way we thought they would best 
hold up, and presenting them to every- 
one not as a guideline, but as a way of 
approaching a particular kind of a prob- 
lem. A newsletter is not like a leaflet 
cover, is not like a sign, is not like any- 
thing else. 

We move on to an area that we called 
quality publications. 2 This area may be 
somewhat unique to NASA, in that 
NASA has a history of putting out excel- 
lent publications that document and 
record its major projects and accom- 
plishments. The manned space pro- 
gram is the main example, although 
NASA does many other publications in 
the scientific field. 

We made two points here. NASA is 
an organization that is really very in- 
volved in the future. We were trying to 
say that more ought to be done with 
such provocative material. The de- 
signers should be able to do more than 
just put a typographic cover on some of 
these publications that have very far- 
reaching implications and are very pro- 
vocative to their audience. We wanted 
to put something behind that, to get into 
it, to give it some life somehow, to try to 
make an idea of it. To illustrate that 
point, we developed a hypothetical pub- 
lication that we called The Future. For 

1UASA Activities 

_«< V 


the cover we used the scientist's black- 
board with equations scrawled on it as a 
background for the title and logotype. 

As another hypothetical example, we 
took a stock NASA photograph and de- 
signed a cover for a publication that we 
called On the Possibility of Extraterres- 
trial Life. We used a style in which the 
typography truly becomes an illustrative 
element and enlarges the meaning and 
the sense of the pictorial illustration. To 
do the illustration as a straight photo- 
graph with a typographic title in the 
upper left-hand corner would not be as 
good as doing it this way, with the 
typography integrated with the photog- 
raphy. We tried to say that the possibili- 
ties are not all predetermined or limited. 

We worked out a way to incorporate 
in publication identification material the 
mission patches that were designed for 
each of the manned space missions 
(they have, in fact, been designed for 
other activities in NASA, as a matter of 
professional pride as much as anything 
else). The people who were involved, 
and particularly the astronauts who 
were involved in the manned space 
program, always developed their own 
graphic device, which they translated 
into a patch to put on their flight suits 
and other gear at the time of the mis- 
sion. These devices occur with regu- 
larity in all the publications that docu- 
ment the missions. There is a similarity 
between the problem of using this mis- 
sion identification and the problem of 
local Bicentennial project identification. 
The solution here is similar: If a mission 
symbol must be included, it should be 
kept as far away as possible from the 
NASA identification so there is no un- 
necessary visual competition between 
the NASA identification elements, 
which are permanent, and the mission 
symbol, which is transitory. 

The next category of publications is 


casebound and educational publica- 
tions. 1 These, too, are hypothetical 
examples except for Space Mathe- 
matics. In selecting that particular cover 
as an example, we hoped to show that it 
is possible to do very nice typographic 
solutions to booklets or publications 
that neither suggest nor require an illus- 
trative treatment. Space Mathematics 
was one of a series of perhaps ten 
NASA textbooks that concerned the 
space sciences. We did not suggest a 
series solution here, but we did con- 
sider this an appropriate example of a 
typographic solution. 

We invented another hypothetical 
case to show the use of Garamond as a 
display face, as opposed to Helvetica, 
which would be preferred if the manual 
were read in a literal sense. The use of 
that serif traditional letter form for Apollo 
II with the delicate drawing of the three 
astronauts seems to be just right. As 
long as the identification portion that 
must appear on every publication is 
treated exactly as described in the 
manual, as long as no change is made 
in that, then this kind of thing is fine. In 
putting out as many publications as 
NASA does, typefaces have to be mix- 
ed every now and then, or else the pub- 
lications will become very, very boring. 

Design decisions always boil down to 
an assessment of how appropriate it is 
to go in one way versus the other way. 

We had one more example of a 
typographic cover, again using typog- 
raphy as illustration, this time trying to 
make the typography look as if it is 
going off into space. There is nothing to 
be taken literally here, except that there 
are a lot of possibilities. Examine the 
possibilities, dig into the problems, get a 
little under the surface, bring out the 
possibilities and potentials that some- 
how were not known to be there. 

Then the manual moves on to press 


kits and telephone directories and 
things of that sort."" We showed a series 
of press kits that illustrate first, a very 
strong institutional approach, using a 
large NASA identification and small 
titling; second, a very strong center 
identification, with the center name, in 
fact, as the name of the publication — a 
press kit for George Marshall Space 
Flight Center; and third, a press kit for a 
specific NASA project. In that last 
example we used the Futura typeface 
as opposed to the Helvetica typeface 
because it worked better with that word 
and it made a stronger presentation. So 
we have again broken out of the hand- 
cuffs and done something that is not a 
literal interpretation of the system. 

We used three telephone directories 
as illustrations, too. One showed an ef- 
fective use of two-color printing; one 
showed a straight typographic ap- 
proach; and one used an illustrative ap- 
proach. The example demonstrating 
the typographic approach also com- 
municated a strong institutional 

What we are trying to do with this 
presentation is to say that there are ap- 
propriate and inappropriate ways to 
deal with certain kinds of publications, 
and in this area it is not wise to go too far 
out. For instance, we had an experi- 
ence with the NASA headquarters tele- 
phone directory in which it was de- 
signed in a highly decorative style. It 
had a lot of elements on it that were 
semi-illustrative; the typography was 
done in four, five, or six different styles. 
It is the kind of thing that I would turn 
cover down if I had it on my desk, but I 
would be in trouble then, too, because 
the back cover was horrible. 

It is necessary to look at what hap- 
pens to these things when they go out, 
how they're used, and what their life 
expectancy is. Are we literally asking 


someone to keep this around in front of 
him for a year? If so, are we going to 
give him something that he can live 
with, or are we going to give him some- 
thing that he will really hate and will 
hide? That would impair the basic use- 
fulness of the publication. 

All these things are part of the prob- 
lem and the designer's concern. I think I 
would not mind living with any of those 
examples we have used in the manual 
for a year. I might get tired of the one 
using the illustrative approach; I think 
that probably stretches it farther than 
the other two. The point is that we must 
take into consideration the ultimate use 
of these publications and the effect of 
their design on the user of the publica- 

We showed two examples of posters, 
one real, one not. 2 The hypothetical 
poster uses stock photography from 
one of the manned missions (the first 
space walk). One of NASA's problems 
has been to get across the idea that 
space technology is also useful on 
earth, that the taxpayer is not pouring 
his money completely down the drain. 
So we toyed with the idea of doing a 
series of posters that expressed that 
thought in a very strong way. In the 
space-walk poster, in the lower right- 
hand corner, there is a small dia- 
grammatic illustration of a man with a 
heart: We were making the point that 
the state-of-the-art cardiac pacemaker 
was developed as a result of NASA's 
pure research. 

The other poster illustration demon- 
strated one of the very first applications 
of the program, a very nice poster on 
NASA's weather satellites. The poster 
shows a handsome and effective use of 
illustration and typography. 

The idea that these are posters 
comes across quite well because of the 
scale usage, the elements relating to 


one another in a certain scale relation- 
ship. They feel like posters. 

We hope that when people do 
posters — even posters that have as 
much content as the one about the 
pacemaker — they will think in terms this 
simple. The idea should be reduced to 
the point at which the communication is 
instant, and its elements should be 
used in ways that provide maximum 
visual impact, pulling people in and 
making them want to know what is 
really going on there. 

In the last part of the publications sec- 
tion, we got into the question of a grid. 1 
Essentially, the point is that there must 
be some underlying structure in the de- 
sign that runs throughout a publication, 
making it a cohesive unit, making it 
hang together. We gave a basic dia- 
grammatic illustration of how to set up a 
grid, a very simple two-column grid. 

A grid really includes a cover design. 2 
There are ways to relate a cover design 
directly to an interior grid format. We've 
given an example in which the photo- 
graphic panel on the cover becomes 
the typographic panel in the text; noth- 
ing intrudes on the band of space at the 
top except the titling devices and run- 
ning heads. We also gave examples of 
two other approaches to gridding a pub- 
lication. These are all hypothetical situa- 

We then decided that it would be use- 
ful to take the categories of publications 
that we had dealt with earlier and sug- 
gest some diagrammatic possibilities 
for gridding them. Each form has its 
inherent limitations. 

For instance, with the leaflets and 
rack folders, not much more can be 
done than a one-column grid. 3 A lot can 
be done within that one-column grid 
format depending on the content and 
the thrust of the publication, so we 
showed it in three different ways. 


A different sort of problem arises from 
the journals and technical publications. 4 
The technical nature of these publica- 
tions gives them a more bookish look, a 
kind of academic feeling. 

Still, there are ways to give it relief. 
We give one example in which there are 
diagrams. That's a very heavy text solu- 
tion. On the top and bottom, some white 
space runs throughout the system, giv- 
ing a little more relief. 

Another example shows a lot of illus- 
trations, photographic illustrations pre- 
sumably, with a fair amount of text, but a 
lot of relief in the publication. We're try- 
ing to say that even though these publi- 
cations are technical and the people 
who read them really want to feel it, they 
still have to be interesting and easy to 

We gave examples of three different 
ways to approach a news publication. 5 
These are only suggestions and a few 
of the ways of looking at a problem. 
They probably do not relate directly to 
anyone's specific needs, but they might 
give an insight into a way of handling a 
certain kind of material. 

At the back of our manual, we have 
several pages relating to real problems 
that have not yet been dealt with in any 
great detail. The signage guidelines 
were developed specifically for the 
Kennedy Space Center in connection 
with the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission with 
the USSR. 6 The people at NASA wanted 
to dress up the base and were excited 
about the new program, so we did some 
development work for them and gave 
them a start — gave ourselves a start 
really — on making suggestions about 
signage for all the centers. Since then a 
complete signage program using these 
guidelines has been developed and 
implemented by staff designers at the 
Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center 
in California. 

f — — - 



Signs are the kind of thing that I think 
should be controlled a little more than 
publications, for instance, because they 
have permanence associated with 
them in the same way that the logotype 
or the identification elements do. I really 
think that the coordinator and the head- 
quarters management should lay down 
certain firm rules about signage. 

We developed a stopgap way of get- 
ting the new identification elements on 
existing forms and in advance of any 
real study on the problem of the overall 
design of forms. 1 

We did a purely hypothetical page on 
vehicles. It was to say that we are work- 
ing on it. 

Another example, no longer hypo- 
thetical, is our space shuttle marking 
scheme. 2 It has undergone a lot of 
changes, but it is under way now in the 
shuttle training vehicles that are being 

We are still at work on the problem of 
how to mark NASA's aircraft fleet. 
NASA I, the Administrator's aircraft, 
was the first aircraft completed. We are 
now working on the remainder of the 
fleet, and it is a considerable job. NASA 
has aircraft shaped like needles and 
aircraft shaped like elephants, so the 
problem is difficult, but it seems to be 
developing nicely. 

The concluding section of the manual 
discusses two different kinds of certifi- 
cates and awards. 3 We retained the 
NASA seal on certificates to be used 
mostly for ceremonial and historical oc- 
casions of one sort or another. On 
award certificates — for special 
achievement, for a suggestion that was 
accepted, and that sort of thing — we 
used the NASA logotype as the iden- 


I'd like to encourage questions, and 
we'll try to mix it up a little bit. 

Q: Bruce, I think it would be interest- 
ing for the group to know how long 
the research, analysis, interview- 
ing — whatever contributed to devel- 
oping the NASA system — went on 
before you came up with the rec- 
ommendations. We see the end re- 
sult, but there must have been some 
sweat. Tell us a little about the sweat. 

A: I guess I skipped that because I want 
to forget it. But I think that there was a 
period of about three to four months in 
which we did a series of interviews with 
management people in NASA and saw 
some of the people from the centers. 
We tried to get a handle on what had 
been happening in all of these areas 
and to get a feeling for the problems as 
seen by the people who really have to 
deal with them day to day. We compiled 
large files full of notes, of comments 
from different people, trying to get a 
feeling for how certain things came 
about within the organization, where 
they came from, who was responsible, 
and so forth and so on. 

We submitted a preliminary report in 
writing — not a visual presentation, but 
in writing. In it we more or less rehashed 
what we had learned in the research 
and interview phase and the conclu- 
sions that we had reached. Our conclu- 
sions were of a general nature in all 
regards except that NASA was really 
known as NASA, not the National 
Aeronautics and Space Administration, 
and that that would probably be the 
major thrust of our visual presentation. 
We wanted to get that out on the table 
so that if anyone had any predisposition 
toward some other approach, we would 
know about it in a hurry and not waste 
all the effort that would go into develop- 


ing the logotype. So all that happened 
before we ever really put our pencils 
down on the paper and tried to design 
the thing. 

It's a tedious process, but one that is 
really necessary to get yourself well 
grounded in the organization, under- 
standing how it operates, what is really 
happening there, what the administra- 
tor really feels is the future of the or- 
ganization, which way it is going, what 
their public relations problems are, and 
so on. We really had an earful of that 
before we even started to think about 
the final design we recommended to 

Q: You put great emphasis on the 
logo. Why did you use red, and why 
did you take out the horizontal 
stroke on the A? 

A: Well, the red was used because it 
was a livelier, more aggressive color 
than the others we had considered. We 
considered blue, which everyone uses, 
for instance. In fact, NASA had used 
blue until this program got underway, 
and we felt that it was just too restful. It 
looked as if NASA was lying back, not 
pushing forward, and we felt pretty 
strongly that the form of this logo 
needed that kind of aggressive color to 
make it really come alive. 

We decided to treat the A as we did 
by a process of elimination. We had 
started designing a logotype, and we 
brought it back, back, back, simplified it 
more and more, and finally it became 
apparent that the A's in there really 
didn't need cross strokes to be legible. 
Also, when the cross strokes came out, 
the logo had a kind of a lift to it that we 
liked, and it looked more unique and 
contemporary. Everything seemed to 
be going for it when the cross strokes 
came out. When the cross strokes were 


in, it became a more pedestrian kind of 
solution. So we fought very hard for 
that. I'm very happy the cross strokes 
are not there. I think that's really one of 
the things that makes the logotype as 
good as it is. 

Q: In the manual, are you saying that 
the logotype doesn't necessarily 
have to appear on the cover? 

A: The answer to that question is no. 
The real requirement is that at some 
point, usually on the front or back cover, 
some signature should be shown for 
the agency or center producing the pub- 
lication, but we really have no hard and 
fast rule about how that is done. The 
reason for that is to allow as much flexi- 
bility to the designer as possible to elim- 
inate that one extra element that might 
really cause trouble in a good design. If 
it must go on the back cover, fine. 

Q: Have you ever noticed that the 
spaghetti you used to write the word 
NASA is very similar to the spaghetti 
you used to wrap your fat star? 

A: That is interesting. No, I haven't 

Q: And the Helvetica light similar- 
ities, also? 

A: Well, that's true. The problem is to 
set up a system that will last for a long 
time. There are many beautiful letter 
forms that can be chosen but that will 
date a project very quickly and that are 
very active design elements in and of 
themselves. In the case of both the 
Bicentennial symbol and the NASA 
identification, the object was really to 
"neutralize" the typography that was 
shown in direct juxtaposition to the 
logotype. If it should also appear to be a 


very contemporary letter form, the 
choice is limited to very few typefaces, 
the best of which, in my opinion, is the 
Helvetica family. So the idea was to 
neutralize the effect of the typography, 
to make it harmonious and contempo- 
rary. It should not take over from the 
logotype, which is the major visual ele- 
ment in the identification system. In de- 
veloping my own sensitivities to this sort 
of thing, when I'm dealing with a subject 
like NASA, which is all science and pre- 
cision and future-orientation and all the 
buzz words you can apply to it, I just 
don't see going back to the 1 9th century 
for the typeface. It may look great in the 
beginning, but down the line a few 
years, it's liable to look very dated and 

I discussed earlier the importance of 
leaving the designer free to concentrate 
on the content of what he is doing. The 
more neutralized the identification ele- 
ment he must work with, the more free 
he is. With traditional typefaces and lots 
of gingerbread in the identification, 
there is a real problem, because that 
element must be the first consideration. 
How can it be avoided? 

We didn't want that. We wanted the 
identification element very easy to 
handle and neutral enough in its char- 
acter to enable it to live with almost 
anything else that was going on. We 
tested the logotype by trying to use it in 
that way. I think that many of the manual 
examples bear that out. 

Q: Did you and Mr. Danne consider 
Avante Garde as an alternative to 
Helvetica or to Futura as a second 

A: That's a good question. Avante 
Garde is to me representative of a 
whole group of typefaces of recent de- 
sign that are excellent. I think these 


typefaces represent the wave of the fu- 
ture in terms of the available alterna- 
tives in typesetting, but they all seem 
to — I may be wrong about this in terms 
of Avante Garde, but I think a lot of 
them — have a built-in limitation in terms 
of being excessively styled and there- 
fore going out of style quickly. If they are 
in style now, sometime they'll be out of 
style. I think of Helvetica, Times Ro- 
man, Garamond, and Futura as 
classics. I don't believe that they will be 
out of style fifty years from now. I think 
they're too good to go out of style. If I 
were designing for a chain of depart- 
ment stores or some such thing, for 
someone who was involved in style, 
and I could reasonably expect that they 
might change their whole identification 
program in five years anyway, and I 
wasn't trying to do something for all 
time, then I would say that Avante 
Garde is terrific, and that whole range of 
alternatives is terrific. But that's really 
the difference for me. 

Q: What about Standard? That's a 
long-established face that has the 
strength of Helvetica. 

A: It's very similar to Helvetica. It was a 
predecessor to Helvetica. I think the dif- 
ference between the two is just a matter 
of shading and interpretation. Helvetica 
seems to have a more classic form and 
to hold up better overall than the other 
does. The letter spacing, for instance, is 
much easier in Helvetica than in Stand- 
ard. The straight stroke endings, as op- 
posed to the slanted stroke endings of 
Standard, and so forth, make Helvetica 
a lot more neutral and a lot easier to 
handle in relationship to other things 
that are going on. So that would be the 
difference for me. 

Q : You gave the impression that Hel- 


vetica is sort of the end-all of type. In 
fact, in long publications, Helvetica 
is a difficult type to read. 

A: I agree. 

Q: Therefore, a serif type would be 
much better. 

A: Well, in the NASA manual, we sug- 
gested two serif faces for text matter. 
Those two faces were really in there for 
very complicated material and very long 
material. I agree with you that sans serif 
lettering is harder to read in a long text. 

Q: But there are very few books pub- 
lished with sans serif type — hardly 

A: That's true. Studies have been done 
on this over and over again. The scien- 
tists I have read say that serif faces are 
more readable by virtue of cultural phe- 
nomena, not physiological phenomena. 
The eye and the mind are perfectly ca- 
pable of handling the sans serif type. 
The reason that serif type is easier on 
the eye, if you will, is that it is more 
familiar. Everyone reads newspapers, 
everyone reads books, all of which are 
traditionally set in a serif face, so we all 
have been conditioned over a lot of 
years to think that that's the way it 
should be. When we run up against the 
other thing, it's a change that's hard for 
the head to accept. And yet, in spite of 
the fact that we've had so much sans 
serif lettering around us in the past ten 
or fifteen years, I don't think we're at a 
point yet where the majority of people 
are able to make that transition and 
handle it as well as they can the serif 
face. I agree with you completely that 
you should, when you get into those 
situations, use a traditional book face 
and use it in a contemporary way, but 


the letter forms themselves are what 
seem to put a person off reading a long 
text in sans serif. 

Q: To give a contemporary outlook, 
the typeface would have to be sans 
serif, whereas to achieve a Rococo 
or Baroque look, it's definitely a serif 
face. I would think that's sort of limit- 

A: Well, in principle you have to be right, 
but on the other hand, there's a lot of 
evidence around to say that a very tradi- 
tional typeface can look just as contem- 
porary as a sans serif face if it's handled 

I think that's where the talent of the 
designer comes in. This idea of being 
locked up with one typeface is a bad 
thing, because it's entirely possible to 
turn all of these accepted rules of thumb 
completely around and make them 
work positively. That's one very good 
example of it, I think. 

Q: Have there been any psychologi- 
cal studies on quick identification 
from sans serif to serif? 

A: Yes, in fact I have some of that mate- 
rial that I had to use in connection with 
signage requirements. For signage, the 
sans serif letter is definitely the pre- 
ferred letter form — here from a physio- 
logical point of view, because at a cer- 
tain distance, a sans serif letter will hold 
up, whereas a serif letter will turn to a 
blob. Serifs tend to diffuse and get 
larger than they are in relation to the 
letter form and therefore impair the legi- 
bility of the letter form. So in that sense 
it's better with the sans serif. 

I don't know whether I got across that 
whole business about typography be- 
coming a design element. I think it's a 
cultural phenomenon that the eye rests 


very easily on Times Roman even 
though it's a serif letter form that's rather 
complicated, has a lot of planes and 
edges and curliques and so forth in it. 
The eye will rest more easily on Times 
Roman than it will on Palatine I can't 
really explain that, except that people 
have been acclimated to the Times 
Roman over more time than they have 
the Palatino, and the Palatino is more 
stylized. It's less consistent in the way 
it's drawn than the Times Roman is, so 
it has hard edges and soft edges com- 
bined, whereas the Times Roman is a 
pretty smooth letter form. It's hard to 
think of using Palatino over and over 
and over again, but Times Roman is 
pleasing even in very large doses. 

I hope we've been able to explore 
effectively the positive and negative as- 
pects of design or graphics standards 
manuals today. I think it is always in- 
teresting and informative to look at a 
real ongoing program — such as 
NASA's — and try to relate specific prob- 
lems to what someone else is doing. 

For all the reasons mentioned previ- 
ously, I believe that these manuals are 
an inevitable aspect of designing for 
large organizations of any sort in the 
future. My hope is that we, as the de- 
signers responsible for implementation, 
can keep a positive perspective on the 
need for and the use of these manuals, 
realizing that although a certain part of 
our effort will not be "creative" in the 
purest sense, this effort is part of a 
larger plan or program. Having that in 
mind, we can concentrate on the real 
challenge of our everyday work, the 
sensitive, effective, and appropriate 
handling of content. 

44 ft U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE : 1977 O— 244-639 

This publication is based on a presen- 
tation made at the Second Studio 
Seminar for Federal Graphic De- 
signers held at the Illinois Institute of 
Technology, November 9, 1976. 

Studio seminars are sponsored by the 
National Endowment for the Arts as a 
part of the Federal Design Improve- 
ment Program. The seminars give 
federal designers the opportunity to 
keep abreast of the latest techniques 
and methods in design and communi- 
cation, to solve problems, and to ex- 
change ideas. Participants include 
designers and their supervisors, pho- 
tographers, illustrators, typographers, 
editors, and printing officers. 

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, D.C. 20402 

October 1977